Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sandhill presents three vintages

The current releases from Sandhill Wines illustrates how much the growing conditions can vary from vintage to vintage in the Okanagan.

They also illustrate how skilfully winemaker Howard Soon and his vineyard team rise to whatever challenge or opportunity nature throws their way.

The 2009 harvest was early, capping a hot year, and has yielded powerful reds. The 2010 and 2011 seasons both were late, producing lighter reds with more elegance than power.

Here are Sandhill’s notes on those three vintages.

2009 – “The 2009 growing season arrived late as the cold temperatures of a long winter seemed to drag on [and] resulted in some reduced crops.…The vines did catch up so that by early summer, vine development was at its normal stages. Summer was extremely hot and dry, which quickly advanced the ripeness of the slightly smaller than usual crop load, foretelling an early quick crush. On Thanksgiving weekend, temperatures dropped to about -9°C in the South Okanagan, halting any further ripening of the grapes. However, at this point all our grapes were essentially ripened and ready to pick. We have some great white wines and the reds are excellent, especially with the reduced crop; wines are rich and intense, yet smooth.”

2010 – “A later than usual bud break and slightly cooler temperatures greeted the 2010 growing season. Once summer finally arrived in mid-July, four weeks of fabulous heat and sunshine filled the valley. The wonderful weather lasted until mid-August and through the important beginning stage of ripening called ‘véraison’. A gift … came in late September with a spell of great weather, and October was drier than usual…. The grapes were left hanging about two weeks longer than usual to allow for complete ripeness. Although grape tonnage was down, this enhanced the concentration of flavours. The last day of harvest, November 8, arrived with great promise for fresh and vibrant whites, and fruit-forward reds.”

2011 – “The growing season began slowly and remained unseasonably cool right through July.  Reducing crop load in the vineyards was essential in producing a healthy harvest as higher crop yields would not ripen sufficiently in cooler temperatures. Normal summer temperatures arrived in August and carried through to late October. Overall tonnage was down for 2011. The whites are very vibrant. The reds are also good, with softer fruit intensity and balanced tannin structure.”

By being able to hang the grapes late into October, Sandhill achieved good ripeness. Every wine has an alcohol of 13.5% or better except for the rosé and the Viognier, which are 12.5% and 12% respectively. Those are adequate numbers for the style of those wines.

Howard Soon recently showed the Vancouver wine trade 11 Sandhill wines – mostly –premium Small Lot wines - from these three vintages. These are all single vineyard wines; that has been the Sandhill philosophy from the beginning. It allows Howard to explore terroir. It also gives Sandhill a point of difference in the market.

The disadvantage, perhaps, is that Howard does not have the option of region-wide blending. In an area like the Okanagan, some winemakers blend to strengthen wines when a certain region comes up a little short, as may happen from year to year. Howard and his team need to get it right in the first place. But also note how effectively he blends small percentages of other varieties, all from the same vineyard, into most of his wines. He is taking advantage of flavour and maturity differences that occur even among blocks in the same vineyard.

Here are my notes. Some of the volumes are given in barrels. As a rule of thumb, there are 25 cases of wine in a barrel.

Sandhill Rosé 2011 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($17.99 for 396 cases).  There are four varietals in this: Gamay Noir (41%), Cabernet Franc (31%), Sangiovese (21%) and Barbera (7%). The grapes were cold-soaked about four days and then 10% of the juice was drained off (the French call this saignée). There are two advantages to this method of making rosé. It produces a beautifully coloured rosé brimming with flavour and complexity; and it improves the concentration of red wines that were made from those four varietals as well. It was a clever way of getting the best from the red grapes in the 2011 vintage.  

The rosé, fermented cool in stainless steel like a white wine, has a dramatic cranberry hue, with flavours of raspberry and cherry and even red liquorice. The wine is crisp and dry, with the weight of an all-season wine. Try it with turkey this Christmas. 90.

Sandhill Viognier 2011 Osprey Ridge Vineyard ($28 for 1,102 cases). This wine begins with appealing aromatics – apricot, peach, pineapple and citrus fruits. That fruit basket carries through to the palate, along with apple favours and a tangy hint of lime on the refreshing finish. 90.

Sandhill Single Block Chardonnay 2010 ($30 for eight barrels). The block referred to here is B11 on the Sandhill Estate Vineyard map. The vines were planted in 1997 in a hot spot below a 400-foot granite cliff. It sounds as if the block could produce a fat Chardonnay; but in a year like 2010, the result was a fresh and elegant Chardonnay. It begins with aromas of tangerine, butter, pineapple and what the winery’s notes call biscuit but I call bacon fat. It comes from the oak due to fermenting 60% of the juice in barrels. On the palate, there are flavours of citrus, apples and spicy but subtle oak. The finish is fresh, with lingering fruit. 91.

Sandhill Sangiovese 2010 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($30 for 21 barrels). There is 10% Barbera blended into this wine, presumably to give a little more flesh to the wine in a lean year. This is a medium-bodied red with cherry aromas and with spicy cherry flavours and a dry, almost dusty, finish. 89.

Sandhill Barbera 2010 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($30 for 17 barrels). There is 12% Merlot in this blend. The wine has a generous texture, with aromas of cherries and lingonberries. On the palate, there are juicy flavours of cherry and plum. 90.

Both the Barbera and the Sangiovese were picked October 26 and 27, showing how late the 2010 vintage was.

Sandhill Malbec 2010 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($35 for five barrels).  There is 15% Cabernet Sauvignon in this blend. (The grapes were picked on October 22.) The wine begins with a dramatic bouquet of cherry, mulberry and blackberry, going on to flavours of plum and cherry and lingonberry, with a spicy finish. 90.

Sandhill Petit Verdot 2010 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($30 for four barrels). There is 15% Cabernet Sauvignon in this blend. The wine is almost inky in colour, typical of Petit Verdot. It begins with intriguing aromas of plum, spice, black currant and chocolate. The wine is generous on the palate with delicious flavours of plum, blueberry, black cherry, chocolate and spice. 91.

Sandhill One 2010 Phantom Creek Vineyard ($35 for 21 barrels). This is a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Malbec, 19% Petit Verdot and 3% Syrah. It begins with aromas of black currants and vanilla. On the palate, there is a medley of berry flavours along with vanilla and cedar. The finish is long, with berry flavours mingled with coffee and spice. 92.

Sandhill Two 2010 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($35 for 11 barrels). This is 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot and 27% Cabernet Franc. There are aromas of black currants, tobacco and oak (the wine after all spent 20 months in barrel), leading to flavours of black cherries, prunes and vanilla, with ripe, earthy tannins. 90.

Sandhill Three 2010 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($35 for 11 barrels). The blend is 64% Sangiovese, 18% Barbera, 9% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. Think of this as Sandhill’s Tuscan blend. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, plum and spice. On the palate, the tannins add a dusty note to the light cherry flavours. The finish is spicy. 89.

Sandhill Single Block Merlot 2009 Sandhill Estate Vineyard ($40 for five barrels). These grapes were harvested on September 28, so ripe that the wine has 15.5% alcohol. However, the flavours and textures are so rich that the alcohol is not obvious. The aromas are absolutely spectacular – plum, black cherry and vanilla. The palate is full and generous, with flavours of black cherry, chocolate and vanilla. The finish is long and satisfying. 92.

While it is early yet to discuss the 2012 vintage, all the reports indicate that it turned out to be an excellent vintage, with no extremes of weather and with substantial crops of good fruit. There will be plenty of wine from the 2012 vintage and the quality should rival 2009.


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